HOW THE EU BECAME A SYMBOL IN POP CULTURE

“No man is an island. No country by itself.” This is what Wolfgang Tillmans put on a photograph of the British cliff line last year, which saw grey slopes functioning like a wall against white crest waves, and two sentences like a bridge build for solidarity. The image, taken by Tillmans and covered with a line from a poem by John Donne, was part of the German photographer’s anti-Brexit campaign in Mai 2016. Meant as visual manifesto, Tillmans imprinted posters and T-shirts with not only landscapes and letters, but also an appeal distinctly urging for the remaining of Britain in the European Union.

If photography, fashion, art, or music can be seen as mirrors to society, they right now primarily reflect the shared pro-EU stance of a variety of creatives. What started with the suddenly very real threat of Brexit and Tillman’s poster-campaign over a year ago still is a more than current and well covered topic within pop culture – tackling a time where Donald Trump is the president of the U.S., France had Marine Le Pen as runner-up for the presidential position last May, and Germany equally sees an alarming increase of right wing supporters leading up to the country’s election later this month. With a diverse set of creative approaches to these developments, artists, musicians, or designers more and more are looking to uniquely incorporate a distinct set of values into their work: The fighting of discrimination of minorities, the importance of using your voice, and the usage of individuality as a collective thought to empower others.

“If you don’t stand in for what you believe in, how can you truly be a participant in the society, in this world?” says Anne Karine Thorbjørnsen, a fashion designer from London, “It’s our duty, especially as young people, to engage, and be aware of current affaires – and to be critical of sources from where different information is coming from. There are many ways of using your own voice for good.” Anne Karine’s way is that of using clothes as a tool for political messages. In her collections, words such as “Unity” become symbols for togetherness, in her presentations actually standing together underlines that symbolism. “An overall feeling of unity, a group, is present throughout my process and recently the feeling of belongingness has become more urgent – a force of many.”

A thought also adapted by a variety of other creatives. As part of the initiative “Use Your Voice” fashion designer Simone Rocha and artist Matthew Stone have created their own versions of the campaign’s title in Mai 2017, designers like Agi & Sam or Philip Ellis have brought the logo of the EU into their collections and onto the catwalk, while emerging labels such as “europe’s unofficial souvenir store” eurotic or Berlin-based König Galerie’s EUNIFY hoodie make waves with their designs and message on Instagram. Which is no surprise, Anne Karine says, as this accessible approach and form of expression are particularly suited for reaching as many people as possible, especially if pioneered by tastemakers like Tillmans or acclaimed designers: “Creative outlets can be more subtle ways of informing, or posing an opinion, or raising a question. They provide a different angle to a case, with more room for speculative, dreamy and philosophical discussions.”

Still, what counts in the end, Anne Karine says, not only is that shared basis but also each and everyone’s individual relation to the topic, to create an even stronger bond against forces looking to disrupt this sense of solidarity: “There are so many strong tendencies in our social and political climate today that works against unity; with so much information and so little truth, causing uncertainty, confusion and fear, leading us to make short-cited decisions, not beneficial for our future. But togetherness is where we can grow from. Brexit for example is a picture of regression, an introverted action, a message of ‘mine’ not ‘ours’, a step backwards, of shutting close our curtains. It feels old-fashioned and unwelcoming. I hope the EU will continue to exist and continue to enable life-values, trade and free movement.”

Transferred onto images and into ideas for a whole generation to grasp, the EU has found its way onto the catwalks and into our Instagram feeds, informing our everyday conscious as something that not simply is a given, but worth fighting for. Seeing it embraced by artists and creatives from all different fields only underlines this understanding, and the values it embodies.

Header Image via Eurotic